After numerous requests to take on a major volunteer project, and after declining several times, I ultimately said “Yes.” That ‘yes’ resulted, for the better part of a year, in much more of my time than I had anticipated.

That experience has had me doing some major soul searching. Yes, the project was a success, and yes, I did enjoy making a contribution and using my skills. But I concluded that as a retiree, it is important to establish a new set of personal rules to ensure declining a request for my time and talent is respected.

After years of parenthood and years in the work world where it was necessary to say ‘no’ and mean it, I was mostly successful. Sometimes said diplomatically, sometimes said emphatically, but there was general acceptance when a request was turned down.

Enter Retirement

Why and when did that change? Somehow, in retirement, there seems to be less respect when a request is declined.

Since retiring, as I turn down requests to be involved in a project or take on additional responsibilities, a ‘no’ isn’t always taken seriously.

My turning down requests with a polite “No, thanks,” results in comebacks such as “You are the best person to do this,” “Someone who committed to this now can’t because of health, because of family, or just because…,” or “We really need you.”

Are You Part of the Problem?

I’ve also found I am part of the problem. I am more susceptible to accepting responsibilities with volunteer duties when asked a second or a third time, though I originally turned them down. Why would I do this?

Out of my soul-searching, I have set some guidelines and questions for myself before taking on more or new additional responsibilities.

When you are asked to volunteer for a role or a position, inquire about:

Time Involvement

How much of your time do they honestly anticipate will be needed? If this is a first-time that a club or organization has established this position or a running this project, they may not be sure. If you agree to take the responsibility, make your time limits clear and stick to them.

Duration

Is there an end-point to this project or position? If you have been asked to fill in to complete a term where a board member resigns or when a planned event occurs, does that also mark the end of your responsibility?

Expectations

What will be specifically expected of you? This is an important question to ask before you commit. With volunteer positions, you won’t necessarily get a job description.

If those expectations are relayed to you during a discussion, I’ve found it beneficial to e-mail the person making the request and outline your understanding. “Thanks for including me in this project. I understand I will be responsible for xxx and activities will generally be on xxx dates.”

Then, consider some things about yourself:

Your Skills

Why are you being asked to do this? Why you specifically? It can be flattering to be asked to participate and wonderful to be sought out. But consider why, in addition to your time, they are asking you.

Do you have specific talents or contacts that will be beneficial to the organization or club? Did another volunteer leave unexpectedly? It’s good to know this.

Your Own Plans

Do you have other planned activities that must take a back seat if you say ‘yes’ to the request? If your involvement may jeopardize travel, family time, or personal downtime that you have planned, this could lead to resentment and dissatisfaction and result in a negative experience for you and for others involved.

Your Interest

Is the activity something that will challenge you in a good way? One of the wonderful aspects of retirement is the ability to try new roles, or to contribute your professional abilities on a voluntary basis.

I’ve seen a good example in some friends who are retired attorneys, volunteering their skills doing pro bono work. They do so in taking only the cases that they can accommodate considering other obligations and choices in their lives.

Your Limits

If you accept this responsibility, will you hold the organization accountable to your agreement? This is a key question.

Once you are involved and have perhaps become more dedicated to whatever cause or activity, it can be more difficult to gently remind that expectations of you are creeping beyond what was originally agreed.

What has been your experiences with volunteerism in retirement? Do you find your time is respected the way it was when you were employed or worked as a professional? Please share any tips you have that will us all be firm if we want to say “no” to a volunteering request.

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